The Muppets have taken The O2
Jim Henson's iconic (and furry) creations play their first-ever full-length live show in Europe.
"It's time to play the music... It's time to light the lights... It's time to meet The Muppets on The Muppet Show tonight..." and that's exactly what thousands of Londoners have just done as Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, The Great Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Animal and company played their first-ever full-length live show in Europe in front of a multi-generational crowd at The O2 Arena this evening.
In September of last year, The Muppets Take the Bowl played a celebrated stint at the infamous Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and it seems only fitting now that a revamped version of that show - under the banner of The Muppets Take The O2 - specially tailored to British audiences should now land in London. After all, it was not an American but a British Television Company (Associated Television) that first agreed to produce "The Muppet Show" for creator Jim Henson way back in 1976, after major American companies such as ABC all passed on the opportunity. And, as they say, the rest is history...
In February 2004 Disney purchased all the intellectual properties from the Jim Henson Company for the neat sum of $75 million and created a wholly owned subsidiary under the name of 'The Muppets Holding Company' (now referred to as The Muppets Studio). Since then, many theatre fans have wondered when the motley crew might make a Broadway or West End debut, already having a plethora of television shows and eight feature films (including 1992's classic The Muppet Christmas Carol) under their belt. Indeed, back in May 2013, that dream looked like it may well come into fruition as Tony Award nominee Alex Timbers approached Disney Theatrical with a concept for a stage musical and directed a 15-minute workshop at the Disney-owned New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway. The presentation, which featured 85 puppets and a handful of sets, was attended by Disney Theatrical President Thomas Schumacher and aimed to demonstrate the technical requirements of staging such a show. Although no official developments have been reported since the workshop, Schumacher had been quoted in saying he was "very intrigued" after the demonstration and there were even rumours that a Broadway musical based on the 1984 movie "The Muppets Take Manhattan" might be the right direction for the project. Fans will have to continue to wait with bated breath (and keep wishing upon a star) for a full-lenth stage musical by Disney, but until then we can be thankful for the live extravaganza that made its European debut in London tonight.
And what a feast of furry fun it was... After a short history lesson introduction by Sam Eagle about America being the greatest country on the planet and how we should try to get over the devastating loss of the American revolution, it was time for that catchiest of theme songs (which remains with you all night and on your journey home) and we're off! The evening follows the loose thread of Kermit, Scooter and "Saturday Night Live" veteran Bobby Moynihan disastrously trying to pad out a full-length stage show - after all, their television programmes just about filled a half hour slot. This 2 hours and 15 minute puppet-spectacle is awash with nostalgia with sketches from yesteryear that "Super Fans" would joyously recall and musical numbers galore, and just like TV's "The Muppet Show" which boasted celebrity guest stars each week, the live show would not be outdone. A giddy David Tennant lapped up the opportunity to dive back into the role of Dr. Who to gatecrash a scene from "Pigs in Space," whilst comedian Kevin Bishop tried his hand at preparing haggis with The Swedish Chef. Stage and screen veteran Charles Dance's attempts to bring a little decorum to the proceeedings by reciting Wordsworth's 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud' would only be sabotaged by Pepé the King Prawn's Ibiza-style take-over and Aussie pop princess Kylie Minogue would also grace The O2 during the "Mah-na Mah-na" number as well as a heartfelt duet with Kermit on his hit song "Rainbow Connection". There were also a couple of nods to musical theatre with a rendition of the title song from Hair (sadly interrupted by a muppet barber with a large pair of scissors as Scooter cries the punchline "Hair has been cut!") and A Little Night Music's "Send in the Clowns" (until they actually did send in rampaging clowns!). All of The Muppets were in fine vocal form from Miss Piggy's parody of Adele's "Hello" to Rowlf's sing-a-long of "Maybe It's Because I'm a Londoner" and Kermit's tap number "Happy Feet" proved that, even in his sixties, this frog's still got it!
Unlike the television show and films, the hardworking, dressed-from-head-to-toe-in-black puppeteers were in full sight for many parts of the show and it was intriguing (but perhaps at the risk of losing a little of its magic) to see the mechanics of the artform and the voice actors behind the icons. Think Avenue Q without the x-rated material. Throughout the evening you couldn't help but feel that the show might be better suited to the intimacy of a West End theatre and a longer run, as opposed to a short stay in the sheer vastness of The O2. Many of tonight's patrons will have been forced to watch the big screens (where the puppeteers are strategically just out of shot) instead of the action on stage, but judging by the smiles on the audience's faces as they left the arena, The Muppets took The O2 and would be welcome back to these shores again and again.
The Muppets Take The O2 is also set to play a 2pm matinee and 8pm evening performance at The O2 Arena tomorrow, 14th July, with special guests Steps, Adam Hills and Peter Davidson, so why not head down to The O2 and get your Muppet fix? You can find more information and buy tickets to the event here.
(Photos by Luke Dyson)